Whereas trainer Bill Mott went into last year’s Triple Crown series with the upstart Hofburg, he figures to emerge from the 2019 Kentucky Derby preps with more seasoned contenders.
The Hall of Famer on Thursday saddled the impressive last-to-first winner, Country House, in a maiden special weight flight at Gulfstream Park. By Friday, Mott was expecting the son of Lookin At Lucky to hit the trail in what will be his fourth start.
“I think at this juncture, with a horse like him, we might want to do that,” Mott said. “You have the mile and a sixteenth races. The mile and an eighth races are probably the ones you want to be pointing for. We could go back in allowance company, but I’m not sure we want to do that.”
The March 2 Fountain of Youth (G2) runs at 1 1/16 miles and precedes Gulfstream’s March 30 Florida Derby (G1) at nine furlongs. A victory in either pays out enough qualifying points to start in the Kentucky Derby.
Mott could have other 3-year-olds targeting prep races in Florida, too.
Mucho, a son of Blame, ran three times last year, breaking his maiden at Saratoga before running second to Mind Control in the Hopeful Stakes (G1). Mott had to stop on him after that, though the Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider homebred has returned in the new year with a par of three-furlong breezes at Florida’s Payson Park Training Center.
“Things are going to happen in a hurry,” Mott said. “We had to give him time after his last race, so I’m not sure where we’re going to start out. We’ll try not to pick the most difficult spot out, I’m sure.”
Gulfstream frequently cards allowance optional claiming events for 3-year-olds. If Mott can round Mucho into shape quickly enough: “He can run. He’s a nice horse. He’s a very nice horse.”
Another Mott recommended we keep an eye on this spring is Tacitus, the first foal out of champion Close Hatches. The Tapit colt broke his maiden Nov. 10 at Aqueduct at second asking and is back on a similar work pattern as Mucho.
“He seems like he’s nice,” Mott said.
The Derby remains elusive for Mott, who has won just about everything else. Last year, he took Hofburg from a maiden win in March to a runner-up in the Florida Derby and seventh-place finish on the first Saturday in May.
Smarty Jones field set
With the Lecomte Stakes (G3) set to run later Saturday, the next Derby points prep, next Friday’s $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, is already set at Oaklawn Park. Arkansas’ trail to Churchill Downs attracted a field of nine led by Long Range Toddy and Bankit, the Steve Asmussen-trained colts who finished 1-2 last time in the Springboard Mile.
HRN’s Matt Shifman offers his full-field Smarty Jones Stakes odds and analysis.
• Another name to know: Owendale. The Brad Cox trainee seems to be rounding into form at the right time, as he upset a salty Thursday allowance at Fair Grounds that could be a Risen Star (G2) prep.
• Trainer Graham Motion says, “There is a very small window between now and the first week in May, and we have to find it.” Still Dreaming is his prospect to know for the Sam F. Davis (G3).
• Todd Pletcher hopes “there’s more in the tank” for 1 1/8-mile maiden winner Moretti as the pricey purchase approaches his Derby trail debut. The Withers (G3) is next.
Admire — Rerouted from the Lecomte — he drew the far outside — to the Withers, this colt continued breezing Saturday morning at Gulfstream, where he kicked to an easy five furlongs in 1:01.62. It’s now another two weeks before the maiden winner races.
Knicks Go — The Grade 1 winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up posted his first work of the year Saturday, going a half mile in a bullet 47 seconds at Tampa Bay Downs toward a start in the Sam F. Davis.
Maximus Mischief — Bound for the Holy Bull (G2), the unbeaten Butch Reid trainee did not have jockey Jose Ortiz up, as expected, but drilled anyway Saturday, going 5/8 of a mile in a blazing 58.02 seconds.
Nolo Contesto — John Sadler’s 3-year-old to watch returned to work Saturday after breaking his maiden back on Jan. 4. One that could go on to the Robert B. Lewis (G2), he clocked four furlongs in 47.20 seconds at Santa Anita Park.
— Ernie Belmonte (@ErnieBPhoto93) January 19, 2019